I’ve just returned from a whirlwind event for the telecom market known as Mobile World Congress and I’m still amazed by the amount of optimism I’ve just witnessed. It would not be an exaggeration to say this level of excitement about the future of telecom hasn’t been seen since 1998. Although it has great food, the city of Barcelona has a pretty poor economy. When this show comes into town however, prices skyrocket and the locals benefit from 100,000 people with money, looking to spend it. Europe being Europe of course decided this would be a great opportunity to do what they do exceedingly well… Have a transit strike, snarling the city in delays of up to 90 minutes to get to the convention center or fira as they call it. Putting that aside, the event was really telling about the future trends in the market. Here they are.
1) The Handset is dead meaning there is no more innovation left – at least nothing we’ve seen lately to distinguish one phone over another. In fact, people have even become fatigued at new models from companies like Samsung. All the profit in the space goes to Apple anyway and they aren’t even at the show so it doesn’t make much sense to discuss phones. The biggest computer news came from Huawei where the company announced a Microsoft Surface clone, the MateBook, which is – you guessed it… Cheaper. Ho, hum.
2) Virtual Reality captivated many people which you could tell because waves of them had big hulking devices strapped to their heads. It’s possible the interest level is overestimated because to try this tech, you need to sit for some time and attach a cybernetic octopus equivalent to your face. Yet, it would be unwise to downplay this technology. Don’t be surprised in fact, if 15+% of our global population is lost to VR, rarely if ever leaving their homes. These are the people already prone to excess texting, video game playing and other leisure, mobile tech activities.
3) 5G was a hot topic at the show with many companies looking to be the leader in this emerging new wireless standard.
4) IoT is everywhere and everything was another persistent theme. Every company that could possibly find a way to alter their product to support IoT seemed to be doing so. As a result, there is more confusion that ever about what really is IoT, what isn’t and exactly how the market is going to evolve.
5) Consolidation will continue unabated as companies look to fill holes in their product lines. A number of companies told me off the record they were being looked at by some of the largest players in the market. Perhaps this is nothing new but for acquisitive companies, the number of areas you need to be involved in seems to be growing more quickly than ever.
6) Digital transformation is really at the heart of the show from a few perspectives. Companies are transforming themselves by using IoT data and big data analytics to better run their organizations. They are literally becoming more productive and efficient at the same time thanks to effective use of technology. Furthermore, they are adapting to customer behavior which now centers on mobile devices, meaning they have to really worry about omnichannel experiences like never before. For the carrier, digital transformation means the continued move to a software telco model or adoption of SDN and NFV. This evolution is how carriers will compete with OTT suppliers and increase their levels of flexibility as they try to deal with an ever-changing world.
7) Smart Machines which I roughly describe as the intersection of big data, analytics and cognitive computing is growing in importance. In many cases this is because the ability to measure, monitor and respond to business needs with sensors and a wealth of never-before-available information may be the greatest differentiator of our time.
8) APIs everywhere – the majority of my over fifty scheduled meetings mentioned APIs as a way for companies to grow their businesses by allowing others to take advantage of their unique solutions. Every company wants to be at the center of their sector’s ecosystem and APIs are how they’re doing it.
9) Digital Invention is the literal tsunami of new business models and opportunities that are springing up as a result of APIs, smart machines and IoT sensor data being used to develop new ideas like detailed industry baselines which companies can measure themselves against. In other words, now more than ever, a company can use tech to see exactly how their smart farming or factory output compares to the competition. They can even drill down to see water usage per crop versus the average. Another data point could be profit per square foot. This is just one example of a torrent of new business models which are being and will be created soon.
10) RCS is on fire. A few vendors told me carriers are finally spending – and in large amounts of money on RCS solutions. The vendors are surprised but happy.
In summary, the show was about optimism. Optimism that technology can transform businesses and make them more profitable. Carriers don’t invest massive amounts of money if they aren’t optimistic. And carriers aren’t optimistic if they don’t think they can charge for the new solutions they are purchasing. Even more surprising is this spending is happening amidst a backdrop of global economic uncertainty. All in all, great news for the future of tech and telecom.